On Monday, President Donald Trump was asked about the reports that his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was, at times in his life, a heavy beer drinker. This is what he said in response:
“I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer, and he’s had a little bit of difficulty, I mean he talked about things that happened when he drinks – this is not a man that said … that he was perfect with respect to alcohol.”
Which is interesting. Because that is not, in fact, anything close to how Kavanaugh has described his own drinking.
During his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Kavanaugh proactively addressed talk that he was a heavy drinker – and fielded questions on his imbibing from Democratic senators.
Here’s how Kavanaugh addressed it in his opening statement:
“I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer. But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.
“There is a bright line between drinking beer, which I gladly do, and which I fully embrace, and sexually assaulting someone, which is a violent crime. If every American who drinks beer or every American who drank beer in high school is suddenly presumed guilty of sexual assault, (it) will be an ugly, new place in this country. I never committed sexual assault.”
Then there was this response from Kavanaugh when asked by Rachel Mitchell, an outside prosecutor brought in by Republicans to ask questions of the witnesses, whether he “consume(d) alcohol” as a high school student”:
“Yes, we drank beer. My friends and I, the boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink, and we — yeah, we drank beer, and I said sometimes — sometimes probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers.”
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Pressed by Mitchell on what he considered too many beers, Kavanaugh responded: “I don’t know. You know, we – whatever the chart says, a blood-alcohol chart.” Asked whether he had ever passed out from drinking, Kavanaugh said: “I – passed out would be – no, but I’ve gone to sleep, but – but I’ve never blacked out. That’s the – that’s the – the allegation, and that – that – that’s wrong.” He also denied ever waking up somewhere different than he fell asleep after a night of drinking.
Later, in an exchange with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), Kavanaugh again denied he had ever blacked out and sought to turn the tables on Klobuchar – asking if she had ever blacked out from drinking. “I have no drinking problem, Judge,” replied Klobuchar. “Nor do I,” he shot back. (Kavanaugh later apologized for his behavior toward Klobuchar.)
Taken as a whole, the message Kavanaugh was trying to get across during his testimony last week is something like this: I drank beers in high school and college. I liked it. Sometimes I may have drunk too many beers. But I was never adversely affected by my beer consumption. I never acted differently. I never forgot things. I never blacked out. And I certainly never sexually assaulted anyone. This was an innocent high school and college thing. No big deal.
That’s a very different message than the one Trump sent about Kavanaugh’s drinking in his comments Monday. “He’s had a little bit of difficulty” suggests, at a minimum, that Kavanaugh has struggled with the effects of his alcohol consumption and, at maximum, that it was something that impacted his life beyond those youthful nights of carousing.
Chad Ludington, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, told CNN in a statement: “I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth.”
Then there’s the fact that Trump floated the idea that Kavanaugh has spoken publicly about “things that happened when he drinks” and added: “This is not a man that said … that he was perfect with respect to alcohol.”
Kavanaugh, very clearly, did NOT talk about what happened when he drank – unless you consider the idea that Absolutely Nothing Happened Ever At All to be “things that happened when he drinks.”
Trump is known for being a teetotaler. As he made clear talking about Kavanaugh, the President himself has never had a “glass of alcohol” in his life. He has also spoken regularly about his older brother’s struggles with booze and how it impacted his life.
Nowhere in his testimony does Kavanaugh cite his drinking as an imperfection or a character flaw – as Trump seems to be describing it. To Kavanaugh this is all a nothing-burger. To Trump, it’s more than that.
What’s very hard to know is whether Trump knows more about Kavanaugh’s drinking than is publicly known and is speaking from that information or whether, and this is often the case, the President is just saying stuff. Either way, what Trump said about Kavanaugh didn’t help the judge’s argument when it comes to his drinking. Not at all.